The start of summer means al fresco dining and poolside sipping. Though we love backyard barbecues and tapas on the porch, sometimes what we really crave is a night (or an afternoon) out with a well-crafted cocktail chilling our hand. With our noteworthy food scene, Nashville cocktail culture has evolved as well. Crisp, creative, and often colored with herbs, these seasonal sips are not your run-of-the-mill margaritas (though we do love those, too!). Today we seek out some of the best cocktails around using at least one of the following: ginger, grapefruit or bitters.
The elusive elixir that seems to remedy everything from migraines to morning sickness has evolved into a favored enhancement for summertime cocktails. It’s always had a presence on a plate of sushi as the perfect palate cleanser between rounds of sashimi. But to mix ginger with juice and a splash of liquor is sheer genius. Nashville, newly populated with hip ethnic eats, has embraced several Asian Fusion restaurants whose artful menus glorify this gifted root.
White Ginger Punch at Zumi
(360 organic vodka, Domaine de Canton, simple syrup, mint, Angostura Bitters, lemon)
If “punch” evokes memories (or lack there of) of college porch parties, then you must try Zumi’s White Ginger Punch. One taste of this ginger tinted concoction will abate any aversions you once had to the red punch we’d all prefer to forget.
Ginger & Lychee Mojito at Virago
(Bacardi rum, lychee sake, honey, ginger ale, mint, fresh lime)
Virago is a hip sushi house known for creative rolls and playful cocktails. The Mojito, a traditional Cuban cocktail, is reinvented here by blending rum with floral-infused sake, ginger and other seasonal flavors. The result is a lightly-perfumed beverage that is easy to sip on summer nights.
Bourbon & Spice Beer at Two Ten Jack
(Bourbon, ginger beer, ginger garnish)
Asian street food meets local cuisine at this addictive Japanese-inspired pub, or izakaya, in East Nashville. Touted for an innovative multi-course menu, Two Ten Jack constructs killer cocktails that reflect the artistry of Asian dining (sake, reserve spirits, and aromatic bitters dominate the list.) The Bourbon & Spice beer is a favorite pour. Stout but smooth, this drink does well with ramen but is perfectly able to stand on its own.
Warm months make me crave grapefruit, but many find this particular citrus too acidic on its own. Mixed with a simple syrup and muddled herbs, grapefruit becomes a surprisingly coy complement to numerous liquors.
The Model T at Etch
(Ford’s Gin, Fever Tree Tonic, Chrysanthemum Honey Liqueur, grapefruit)
Etch, the newest culinary creation from chef Deb Paquette, is beloved for plates with bold flavors, bright colors, and clever combinations. At Etch, flavor abounds, so for pre-dinner drinks I tend to favor The Model T, a simple but sophisticated blend of gin, tonic, Chrysanthemum liqueur, honey and grapefruit.
Buon Appetito at Rolf & Daughters
(Campari, Cocchi Americano, grapefruit, lemon, soda water)
This hot Germantown eatery boasts rankings among the best restaurants in the country. The menu — smart, simple and seasonally driven — is built on contemporary combinations of Italian classics. Their food isn’t fluffy — it’s rustic and intrinsically rich. And the cocktails are equally clever with full-bodied flavors that emerge while sipping. I always begin a meal at Rolf & Daughters with the Buon Appetito. Cool and crisp, it is perfection.
The Dragonfly at Lockeland Table
(Uncle Val’s gin, hibiscus tea, fresh grapefruit, muddled lemon and basil)
East Nashville, the ever-trending neighborhood, welcomed this farm to table hub in 2012. Inspired by Southern and European influences, the food at Lockeland Table is delicious and the cocktail list is damn good, too. Their menu evolves with the seasons, as do their drinks. On the top of their list right now is The Dragonfly, a beautiful blend of gin, hibiscus, grapefruit, lemon and basil that begs you to linger on their outdoor porch for one more pour.
THE BEST OF BITTERS
Bitters are a long-standing additive to mixed drinks. But the barmen at these local boutique restaurants have brought the flavor profiles to new heights. From savory scents like sage to woodsy notes like walnut, these drinks feature unexpected flavors that have us hooked. Cutting edge, no doubt, these ingredients speak to the dawn of an era where mixology is deemed craft.
The Act of Contrition at Pinewood Social
(Scarlet Ibis Rum, Fernet, Lime, Orgeat, Falernum, Coffee Pecan Bitters)
Known for its unique interpretations of American fare, Pinewood Social composes cocktails that are just as creative, but at first glance may be perplexing (which may be a secret reason this place is so wildly popular!). A favorite choice at Pinewood is the Act of Contrition, a spicy rum drink which marries aromatic spirits with coffee pecan bitters. Warning: you will want to order another and another … but beware: multiples of this sultry sip will have you begging for mercy in the morning.
Wild Aphrodite at Husk
(Pineau de Charentes Aperitif, Manzanilla Sherry, Amaro Nonino, Wild Sage Bitters)
This Charleston original made a quite a splash when it landed in a historic home in Rutledge Hill in 2013. Framed as one of the firsts to popularize farm-to-table dining, Husk has composed a menu that is solely sourced from the South. Creative and chic, the plates are decorated with pickled vegetables, prime meats, and handmade confections. Their cocktails are equally exquisite — the Aphrodite, colored with wild sage bitters and herbal liqueurs, will awaken your summer sprite.
(Corsair Genever, Cardamaro, Celery Bitters, lemon peel)
City House has redefined “cool” in Nashville dining circles. Found in historic Germantown, this place is a well-balanced blend of wood and brick. The menu is clever — a delicious dialogue between northern Italy and native farms — and the drink list is equally stylish and scrumptious. The Herbivore, a mix of classic Italian spirits, celery bitters, and lemon, is a crisp but sunny sip.
Jamaican winter at Mason’s
(Appleton Estate Rum, Mulled Pineapple Syrup, lime, Benedictine, Walnut Bitters)
Situated beneath the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel, this “Southern brasserie” serves up elevated farm fare with French technique. Innovative, seasonal, but country at its core, the menu at Mason’s is dotted with deviled eggs, heirloom grits and fried tomatoes that rival those of your relatives. The cuisine has classic elements, as do the cocktails, but each features something noteworthy. The Jamaican Winter, tinted with pineapple, lime and walnut bitters, is a winning combination at the peak of warm weather.
El Fuego at Holland House Bar and Refuge
(Mezcal, lemon, agave, peach & hellfire bitters)
The modern speakeasy is outfitted with appropriate vintage trappings. Cool, but not kitschy, Holland House is an East Nashville gem whose reputation for the finest cocktails is known not just around Nashville, but throughout the region and beyond. Intentionally crafted with housemade ingredients and the season’s best inspirations, these cocktails will have you sipping every last drop. El Fuego, one of my favorite summer sips, features tequila, agave, and a splash of peach & hellfire bitters. But be careful, it bites.
The Pony Negroni at Music City Tippler
(Tanqueray, rangpur, aperol, dolin blanc, Free Brothers grapefruit bitters)
Another stylish speakeasy, The Music City Tippler, has landed in Midtown. The modern lounge is always packed and for good reason. The bar bites are tasty and the libations are lovely. The Pony Negroni is a gin based drink tinted with grapefruit bitters and aperol. Just the right amount of sweet and spice, it’s a warm weather drink that demands strappy sandals and feminine frocks.
The Classic Old Fashioned at Silo
(rye whiskey, Angostura bitters, cane syrup, orange peels)
Germantown is a mecca of delicious dining and Silo, a Southern community kitchen, speaks to such cuisine. Locally sourced and always seasonal, their meats and vegetables are quite literally the cream of the crop. And their cocktails boasts the same Southern sensibility that flavors their food. A reservoir of whiskey and rye, Silo is a place to sip something vogue and vintage. The Classic Old Fashioned, lightly sweetened and colored with orange and bitters, always fits the bill.
A SWEET ENDING
Milk Moustache at Tree House
(Plantation rum, Arbol honey molasses, black walnut bitters, apple brandy, topped with thick cream)
Just when I thought East Nashville couldn’t squeeze another hip eatery on its streets, in went another couture kitchen tucked in a … tree. The Tree House menu, laden with legumes, artisan cheese, and gorgeous grains, would make most reconsider vegetarianism as the way to eat (no worries carnivores, there is still plenty of meat on this menu!). The plates are rich and savory, and so are their drinks. The Milk Moustache is a divine dessert drink. Loaded with rum, molasses, walnut bitters, apple brandy, and thick whip cream, it is smooth bedtime beverage that ails a belly full of brussels.
Disclaimer: If you plan to indulge in one of these bodacious blends, consider wearing The Bytox Hangover Prevention Patch, a wondrous find shared (and sold!) by our thoughtful friends at Fabu!
Happy sipping this summer!
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